We had to begin the transformation of the company’s business processes to support the new business objectives. Specifically the company was going to carry a dramatically different set of products which required a new set of capabilities in Strategic Planning, Merchandising, Marketing, Procurement, Inventory Management, Retail Operations and Logistics.
That scope defined the set of processes we needed to change first. The overall goal was to enable the transformation of the company which would manifest itself in higher revenue, improved growth and profitability, greater customer satisfaction and superior employee engagement.
We decided to attack this by introducing the Lean technique of Value Stream Mapping to the organization. We had to start with mapping the Current State process.
The company had no experience in Lean process improvement. We started with clear articulation of the business goals and objectives, the scope of the process improvement we were undertaking, and the resultant improvements we were looking to achieve.
We assembled a Cross-functional team. Even though none of the team members had been through a Lean transformation or Value Stream Mapping exercise before they eagerly volunteered to participate. They all knew that the processes had to be changed and to their credit they took the leap of faith that this approach would drive that change.
We began with a single, blank sheet of easel pad paper taped to one end of the meeting room wall, and stacks of blank sticky notes. With a dozen people in the room, and the process scope understood, I asked the question, “What is the first step in the current state process?” It took some time to get started as people debated what the actual first step was, but we eventually agreed on what it was and wrote it down on the first sticky note to go on to the blank easel paper. We had begun.
We continued slowly but momentum kept building. Soon we started adding more and more sticky notes representing subsequent steps in the process. There was often agreement on the next steps but just as often there was either disagreement or a complete lack of understanding as to what the next steps actually were. Regardless it often took a fair amount of discussion to establish what the next process step would be to be written on a sticky note.
While everyone was cooperative it became very clear that there were functional silos in the operation. People were not aligned on who was responsible for what. And all of this often lead to duplication of work, unnecessary iterations of work, and a lot of redundancy in the process which we could only have learned by mapping out the process.
Additionally we kept a running list of all of the pain points that we had with the process. People had a lot of frustration with how things were done but to this point they had no forum to express their concerns let alone be invited to figure out how to improve the situation.
The process map kept evolving. We identified multiple points where the process doubled back on itself, where people went through multiple (often dozens of) iterations of parts of the process. People unknowingly passed on errors and quality defects further along in the process. There was no visibility to any of this activity otherwise.
The process of discovery was absolutely wonderful to see, not only for me but for everyone in the room. These were incredibly smart people who were the clear subject matter experts in each of their functional areas. Yet there was no one who truly understood the entire end to end process. And not one understood what happened when people passed on work or information of some kind to others outside of their own function.
It became self-evident to everyone in the room that there was tremendous opportunity. We could reduce repetition of work, numerous iterations, variances, passing along defects and significantly streamline the process. Everyone was enlightened!
Everyone could easily see that there when we got to mapping the Future State process that it would be dramatically simplified. An underlying premise was clearly that we would touch information only once in the new process. Further we would be able to eliminate a lot of the pain points. And frustrations that people had just lived with doing in their jobs day after day would be addressed.
We dedicated a certain amount of time every week to spend on the Current State mapping. After many weeks we completed this first, critical step. When we were done the entire meeting room was covered with sheet after sheet of easel pad paper. Each piece of paper was filled with sticky notes defining the extensive, complex, and highly inefficient Current State process.
We had mapped out hundreds of process steps, dozens of unnecessary, iterative loops, and almost 200 pain points.
Most importantly we had made massive steps toward our goal of improving employee engagement. All of those involved in the Current State mapping process were completely ecstatic about the experience they had. They had become completely educated on how the end to end processes in the company actually worked.
People were excited most significantly that the prospects for making improvements when it came to defining the Future State process gave them hope for changes to come. A lot of themes became apparent to all. We needed to eliminate waste, get rid of redundancies and reduce duplication of work. We needed to manage by exception only, and get rid of the complexity.
Word of mouth spread quickly. People were excited as to when we were going to tackle other processes within the company. Everyone wanted to participate. We were well on the way to driving the Cultural change that was needed. And that was at the core of the transformation we were undertaking.
Quotes from our Participants
We asked people how they felt about going through this experience. Samples of their actual quotes speaks for themselves:
“This was truly a liberating process. We liberated our minds. And we liberated all the existing processes from redundancies that had built up over the years”
“It was astonishing to see just what was needed to bring a product from vendor to customer. And then realize that we have the knowledge and expertise to create a much more robust and effective way to operate our business. Both our business and our customers will benefit from the re-design undertaken here.”
“Although we work across functional boundaries, our experience and progression is still within silos. This process exposed me personally to a lot of learning regarding what people in other departments are doing.”
“ I truly feel for the first time that we will do what it takes as an organization to help make the business a “best in class” experience. From the employees at head office through to the customer experience.”
Our journey of business process transformation was well underway. The next step was clear: we had to map out the Future State process.
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